'Runner Runner' Finishes Exhausted And Out Of Breath
Published: Sunday, October 6, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 6, 2013 18:10
There is about a 4 percent chance of getting a runner-runner straight in Texas Hold ‘Em. There is also about a 4 percent chance Runner Runner is actually a good movie. The movie does try to cover this up with fancy gambling jargon, but unfortunately no amount of side tracking can distract from this generic and uncreative mess. It’s not completely unentertaining—what the movie lacks in just about everything, it makes up for in just how bad it is.
Aptly-named Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is a Princeton graduate student who possesses significant mathematical prowess as well as a hefty bill from the university. Unable to receive tuition assistance due to a lucrative, but now lost, job on Wall Street, Richie turns to steering his fellow classmates to specific online gambling sites, the money from which now funds his education. Ratted out by a peer, he is threatened with expulsion. Figuring he has nothing left to lose, he takes his chances, pools all his money into a gambling site and tries to win his debt amount in one night—he ends up losing everything to a cheater, something he ends up statistically proving.
From here on the movie is just your typical movie plot: protagonist meets antagonist, he shows his usefulness, gets exploited but does not realize it until the end where he finally sees the error of his ways and does the right thing. The FBI makes an appearance to do some lawfully questionable “negotiating” with him but ends up getting their way through a countless string of second chances anyway. There is the main girl, who he gets through cheesy pick-up lines and feigned swagger, who serves only to look pretty and betray him in a key plot point which is then forgiven two seconds later. Insert a vast amount of plot holes, sprint runner pacing, and the perfect Hollywood ending to get the most stereotypical storyline the film industry could throw at you. Oh, and there is a terse familial relationship thrown in for good measure to make sure all bases are covered.
This is another factor of the movie’s downfall: it tries so hard to make it seem like it is edgy and ground-breaking when it really isn’t. The cinematography is indeed breathtaking but uninspired as scenes are broken up with shots of beautiful tropical landscapes or cityscapes—nothing anyone has not seen before. Only one scene is note-worthy, which is the party where Richie meets the main bad guy, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). The filming captures the chaotic nature of the bacchanal through fast cuts of costumed patrons and brilliantly colored lights, but even here the film falters in an odd and unnecessarily long frontal shot of Richie walking through with all this going about him. It breaks the focus away from what could have been a visually well-executed scene.
With forgettable dialogue only kept in for moving the plot along and acting that makes bran cereal seem exciting, even those paid to be in the movie could do nothing with what was given to them. The only actor having fun is Affleck, but this also fails as no one else is in on the joke. Block never registers as remotely menacing even when throwing rivals into crocodile infested waters. Moments meant to be serious or tense either fell flat or are laughable from the sheer exertion put forth by the actors. Anthony Mackie plays the morally ambivalent FBI agent who is seemingly supposed to be a major character but only serves as comic relief—otherwise, his role has no purpose besides being an inconvenient speed bump. Gemma Arterton as Rebecca (or the only-once-named love interest) does a good job standing around looking beautiful and Timberlake does what he does best: look fresh-faced, bright-eyed, and be overly naive about even the most obvious of plot twists.
However bad and stereotypical the movie is, there is something to salvage here: it is entertaining albeit excessively mindless. Laughably executed though it may be, at least it has that comical factor going for it—even if that was not what it intended. Just don’t go all in for this one.